In 1959, Nora Johnson wrote a pithy article about women and sex. At the time, women were entering college and getting educated in rates never before seen. Many women crowded into colleges and universities to obtain a liberal education and find a suitable husband. Nora Johnson makes the observation that for an educated women, there is a part of her that she can never give to a man: her own hopes, dreams and desires. After all, her mind has been expanded and she sees the world for what it is. How can you expect a woman to be happy with only children and and home-making?

Reflexively, she mentions the fact that many men see the increased education and competition of women as somehow emasculating. Her analysis of dating is incredibly familiar to the modern reader. She talks about women who want to be with men but don’t necessarily want to give up their hopes, dreams, and desires to get married and serve the typical pathway. She and her friends weren’t really ready to sublimate themselves to the desires of a husband, home, and children. It is easy to see how the 2nd wave of feminism in the 1970s grew out of this desire to set women free from a structure that offered them few pathways to independence or social currency outside of home and marriage. Her delightful description of “old Joe'” as her stand in for an everyman is depressing. She portrays men as lonely sad creatures desperate for a date and sad that women aren’t ready to just commit forcing him to go out and try again to find another woman. 

As it turns out, relationships of equals are difficult to pull off. It’s hard to have a home and marriage with two independent careers that can pull each other in different directions. And there’s just the simple fact that some women would like companionship without any kind of relationship or commitment leaving her free to pursue her own interests, which Johnson describes very well. As it would turn out, dating for women has gotten no easier in the intervening 50 years since this essay was written. 

The chief problem is that there are two diverging desires between men and women. Men take most of the risk in dating. In most cases, the man will ask a woman out, risking rejection, and will have to consistently put himself in situations where not only he is around women but he conducts himself in a manner that will attract women. This can include physical fitness and career goals. There is quite a bit that goes into making a man attractive to a woman. For many men, the process of even getting into a relationship is taxing and for women to treat it as something casual is a tough pill to swallow. I’d say that is as true today as it was 50 years ago. 

It’s easy to say that no one should live to be in a relationship but human intimacy and connection is a huge part of life and  a huge part of being human. It’s tough to just leave those primal desires behind. Travel and extra income is nice but it doesn’t keep you warm to emotionally stable as a solid romantic relationship. I don’t have any clever solutions to this problem. We live in a society of individuals and in order for a relationship to work there must be sharing and compromise, however, that is hard to do when either side won’t compromise. I don’t know if that is sublimating to anyone else but ultimately, people have to choose to do what it takes to be with someone. That is as true today as it was in 1959. 

If you don’t have time to slog through the whole article The Atlantic has animated it’s main points here: